“I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high.” - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
"The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom."-Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
For many years, I was afraid to count my blessings.
There were too many shadows lurking, too many voices whispering, and too many potential horrors biding their time for me to focus on the joys I held in my humble hands. Deep inside I thought that if I counted something as a blessing, it might get snatched away. I couldn't bear that possibility.
Instead I subconsciously counted the days until the end of all things, the destruction of both earthly blessings and curses. That number always grows as the days tick away. I rocked back and forth, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5...." and felt the comfort of the passing days. Once today is done there is one less day of darkness we all must endure.
I caged myself with fear and cut my wings with my cynicism. It felt so much safer than the wide world of hope and risk beyond the bars encircling me, but even so, I knew someday the cage would crack and I would fall.
"...2125, 2126, 2127...."
Desperation grows and each tick upward adds dreadful weight upon the soul. This is what it means to be a pessimist. This is what it looks like to be hopeless. The terrifying possibilities are far more real than the realest happiness when you live waiting for it all to simply be over.
It takes a miracle to unlearn this kind of life. Thankfully, God is good at achieving the miraculous.
Mr. Fantastic calls me a late bloomer. It isn't that I bloom late, though. I simply believed it would be better never to bloom at all than to bud and have the blooms die prematurely on the branch.
I know differently now.
I know that blessings counted can't be taken away.
"...the peaceful sunrise of new mercy, the laughter of children at midday, the brilliance of the sun across the lake, the taste of mature figs sliced and roasted on pizza, the glorious pink and orange sunset..."
These counted blessings are nourishment for the soul. We consume our gratitude and it makes us fuller, happier, and braver.
Counting blessings is work and it is discipline and it is the miracle of water from a rock and honey bread that falls from heaven. Gratitude is broken bread and a cup of wine that makes us remember. It teaches that God is good today, and if He is good today He will surely be good tomorrow. The more I count, the deeper the lesson goes and my wings grow stronger as I tick another off.
"...sons who forgive, challenging weeks that flow into restful weekends, chocolate cake, ancient words of hope in trials..."
The cage morphs and changes as I hang blessings on the bars to light the darkness. I discover this cage has a door. I am free to go out and test my wings, and free to come back and rest here on my perch, to tend my soul and to heal my heart when the wind is too fierce and the storms wound me.
"...time alone to pray, rain for Austin, a safe home with a roof and strong walls, a marriage that refreshes, a day at the pool, library books stacked high, brothers who hug..."
The counting never ends and broken wings brush clouds. Even caged birds can learn to sing and fly free, and pessimistic hearts can learn to hope. We can all be free.
There is no need to be afraid any longer. Gratitude changes everything.